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Mark 1:14-20

Holy one, for all that has been thank you, for all that will be, yes.

Thank you Andrew and Marnie for the invitation to engage in this wonderful conversation.

I’d like to dive right into one particular phrase we hear in this evening’s Gospel. “…the Kingdom of God has come near…” Mark 1:15 This image of the “Kingdom of God”. What does it mean? I’m curious about what it might mean for you and so hope we can hear a few thoughts in a few minutes.

Now when I was in grad school, I certainly thought I was being ‘inclusive’ when I would use the phrase ‘KINdom of God’, riffing on our familial relationship with God and very importantly with each other. Fair enough.

In preparing for our conversation this evening I went first to my favorite thinker Rene Girard, and through him came upon the work of the French philosopher Michel Serres.

Please feel free to read up on these two gentlemen, and others, like James Allison who are of a school called the Girardian School. In its simplest form, Rene Girard argues that religion and culture are inextricably linked; humans cannot have one without the other. And, and this is a very important observation, all human religion, and therefore all human culture, are descended from sacrifice.

If we have been at war, and you have killed my kin, and I have killed your kin, to make peace we sacrifice someone whose death will cause us pain, but not community disaster. We might each then sacrifice a virgin girl. Or consider that what we call the beautiful game, soccer, descended from Aztec games involving kicking the heads of sacrificial victims around a field. Just think about the Super Bowl next week and consider ritual, sacrifice, and culture.

This culture of sacrifice, this religion of sacrifice continues even today. Economists will tell you that “full employment” in Canada is an unemployment rate of 6%. We are somehow ok with 6% of us not able to find work. That is “normal.”

Sacrificing of some, so that others may live better lives. There is, though, an alternative, subversive religion and culture. In the mists of time, something extraordinary happened. A group of semitic nomads, what will become The Jews, see a different way forward, a way of love, of unconditional forgiveness. Abraham and Isaac is the story that symbolizes, among many things, this revolutionary shift in human thinking.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, !since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:9-12)

This god did not need sacrifice for peace. This god had a different way. And so a different way of thinking was born. An alternative, subversive culture was born because a different religion was being born. A religion and culture of love, of forgiveness and peace. A religion and culture that included all people. A new Kingdom.

It is that Kingdom, what Girardians call the Culture of God, instead of the Kingdom of God. “The time is fulfilled, and the culture of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As descendants of Abraham and Sarah, you and I are called out of the culture of sacrifice by Mark’s Jesus in this Gospel and into the culture of Love.

I’ll close with some quotes from Michel Serres thinking about us being called out of this Kingdom or culture of sacrifice:

“Abominable and present, this universe constantly requires the death of men in great numbers, in combat, in knowledge, in the production and circulation of commodities.
We have not yet left the archaic ages, blind as we are to these holocausts, in spite of the Enlightenment of our knowledge. However, we changed religions one day, leaving sacrifices behind. We must, from today, change universes.”

“Economist, turn your science upside down in order to go searching purposefully for the miserable, the sacrificed. Scientist, change your logic to save the victims of progress.
No! Not progress at any cost! Give back in full the price offered up in sacrifice for progress.”

“Lost soul, lost woman . . . do we realize that this word “loss” has both a moral and an economic meaning? This lost man, who wanted to lose him?”